In Whose Image?

“The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be. . . It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.” – C.S. Lewis

Have you ever looked at a picture of you and your family? Ever noticed which parent you look more like? Have you ever seen a picture of a friend’s family and exclaimed, “You can clearly see you are related to your mother.” Those moments are fascinating to observe. But, it does not stop there. There are more things that a child can pick up from their parents: catch phrases, handwriting style, home decorating style, interests, career choices, etc. It is where we get the phrase, “Like father like son.”

In my own family, my sister and I closely resemble my father. When you put the three of us together, you can clearly tell we are related. Some things, besides looks, have passed down. I have found myself saying some things or doing some things, and I realize it is just how my dad did it or said it. In fact there were times (while I was growing up), when my voice over the phone almost sounded identical to my dad’s and his coworkers did not realize it was me when they called.

Being in the “same image” as various members of your family isn’t just one way we have an image. As Christians, we are made after the image of Christ.

However, are we really living in the image of Christ or someone else’s image?

Called to an Unique Image

Once we are justified, the journey of sanctification begins. Sanctification has been defined by many things: “becoming more holy,” “being more submissive to God,” etc. I am sure we all have heard some varied definitions of sanctification throughout our lives.

However, how does the Bible define what happens after the moment of salvation? Romans 8:29 holds a key phrase: “For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” According to this verse, sanctification is the process or journey we embark on to be conformed/molded/sculpted into the image of Jesus. II Corinthians 3:18 states it similarly. We are being sculpted step by step into the image of our Lord; who is Jesus Christ.

Have you ever thought about how unique of a calling this is? The man who is considered one of history’s most influential teachers. The God who took a human body, kept it, and lived among us (John 1:14). The person who was known as a friend of sinners (Luke 5:27-32). The risen savior at whose name every person will bow t0 (Philippians 2:10-11). This is the image we are being conformed after.

Examining the Original Image

Since we are purposed to be conformed into the image of Jesus, we need to know what he is like. It is the same for an artist. As an artist begins to learn her craft, she tends to look at original masterpieces, and carefully tries to copy the details.

It is the same for us. We have the perfect representation of Jesus done by four artists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. We have four different sculpture of Jesus, but all showing the same person.

So, what is Jesus like? What is the image of Jesus? We need to look at the four Gospels.

Jesus was a servant. Even though he was respected by his disciples, he washed their feet (John 13:1-20). Jesus had compassion on children, and invited them to be close (Mark 10:13-16). Jesus met the needs of people who came to him (John 6:1-15). Jesus searched out people who needed the new life he offered (John 4:1-42; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 19:1-10) Jesus taught people how to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom, and modeled it (Matthew 5-7).

There are plenty more passages we could look at. This is just a glimpse of who Jesus is. Yet, remember Romans 8:29? This is the image we are being sculpted into. This is what sanctification is all about. These characteristics are what our image should, through our walk with Jesus, begin to look like. The world around us should hold up these things, and begin to see them as defining us as well.

Renditions of the Image

Have you ever been watching a movie or reading a book, and was reminded of another story? For example, did you know The Lion King is a rendition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet? A rendition is defined as, “a performance or interpretation of something.” Usually a rendition is a creative interpretation of an original work. It may have similarities to the original, but it is not a copy of the original. It is not sculpted after the original; only inspired from and interpreted off of. Hamlet does not involve a love story that ends with a new king and queen (that wish is drowned out). However, in The Lion King Simba and Nala fall in love and become the new royals of the pride. The endings of the two stories are quite different. Similar in places with regards to plot, but The Lion King is a rendition.

Similarly, there are renditions of the image of Christ. We see this attitude in Paul’s comments in I Corinthians 3. Many people in the church at Corinth were claiming to follow Paul, Apollos, or other people. They began rendering themselves after a teacher. In fact, arguments broke out and division began splitting the church over which teacher should they be following. Paul quickly puts a stop to it. He says that our lives belong to Christ and should model our lives after Christ. The church in Corinth needed to boast in being sculpted into the image of Christ; not after Paul or Apollos.

Don’t we do the same today? Don’t we listen to teachers, pastors, Christian authors, and Christian speakers and their standards become ours? We tend to think that being conformed to the image of Christ means rendering ourselves after another person. Usually this means following a set of standards rather than developing characteristics. We think being in the image of Christ means abstaining from things, wearing certain clothing, doing one activity or avoiding another. I’m not talking about things that the Bible clearly says are sins. However, where does it say that being conformed in the image of Christ means wearing a suit and tie to church? Where does it say that Christ prefers one music style over another? Where does it say that Christ was more concerned about how we looked out the outside than what we looked like on the inside?

We may have fallen into the trap of being a rendition of someone’s interpretation or standards rather than focusing on the original image. We make standards more important than living out the characteristics of Jesus. In fact, Paul goes on in I Corinthians 12:1-27 to tell the Corinthians there will be diversity in the church. The image of Christ is not a cookie cutter that shapes the outside. It is a transforming work on the inside which blooms into the fruit and actions of our lives. We can physically look different from each other and still be faithfully following God’s Word.

There is one characteristic of Jesus I chose not to mention until now: Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-17.

Jesus got upset. However, he did not get upset with the world. He was upset and drove out of the temple those who were making a rendition of God’s image. These people took the image of God (not an actual physical image, but the worship of God) in the temple and interpreted it in their own rendition. He was upset at these people: the religious leaders. Jesus wanted them to know his house was a house of prayer to the nations; meaning it wouldn’t follow their rendition, but his.

The mark of being sculpted into the image of Christ is not by how well you follow standards, but how well you follow God’s Spirit as he guides you by his Word. This is what makes us into the image of Christ.

More Than WWJD

As we live our lives, following the Spirit as he guides us through the Word, we will begin to live as pieces of art sculpted after the original image: Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 4:21-32 states we are to put on our new life which is created in the likeness of God (or Jesus). We are to be walking each step of our journey looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

WWJD or What Would Jesus Do is a great saying. However, it lends itself to be easily swayed by a rendering of the image of Christ. Our lives are more than WWJD. Our lives are to be painted with, sculpted with, and written with the characteristics of Christ. The outside will change; that is why it is called the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25). When we follow the Spirit, the outside will change and our boasting can only be in the transforming power of Christ.

Whose image are we following? Are we following someone’s rendering of Christ’s image? Are we more concerned about our outside appearance than cultivating the characteristics of Christ? Following standards does not produce the fruit of the Spirit.

Are we truly seeking to live in the image of Christ? Are we willing to do what he did? Are we willing to interact with people the way he did?

In whose image are we being transformed into?

Overdosing on the Bible

“No man understands the Scriptures, unless he be acquainted with the Cross.”
– Martin Luther

Elvis, Judy Garland, Edgar Allan Poe, Prince, Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Marilyn Monroe – names every American are familiar with. They were musicians, actors, authors, and celebrated Americans. However, each one died due to an overdose.

An overdose is taking too much of a substance which results in serious health issues; usually resulting in death. There are many reasons one may overdose on a drug. Yet, sometimes it can be to fix pain, depression, or other issues one wants to be rid of.

We all struggle with something we want rid of: a besetting sin, a thought pattern, a traumatic past, etc. It is connected to us and follows us like our shadow. We want to do anything to be rid of it. As Christians, we desire to live for God and to fulfill our purpose he has called us to, but we feel anchored to the chains of our past or struggle. With envy, we yearn to walk in freedom as others do around us.

Frantically, we plead, “How do I get rid of this struggle? How do I let go of my past?” A fellow Christian gives us a Bible and says, “Begin memorizing Scripture and you will be free.”

So we pop the lid off the Bible and begin to administer the dosage. However, this is a dangerous mindset and can lead to an overdose of the Bible killing our spiritual walk with God.

The “Mis-Prescibing” of the Sufficiency of Scripture

II Peter 1:3 states that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of God. This knowledge comes from the Word of God. We would all stand up and shout, “Amen!” It is true that what we need to live our lives for God and to follow him closely are found in Scripture. This is called the sufficiency of Scripture.

Sufficiency of Scripture is a foundational doctrine that all Christians should practice as we have questions, struggles, and hurts. We can find what need to do to glorify God in Scripture. However, the wonderful fact of this teaching can be prescribed in a wrong way.

It has been said that if you are struggling with sin, you need more Scripture. If you want to heal, then memorize and study Scripture more. We are given a Bible and prescribed, “Read and memorize as much as you can, and you will see a change.” Maybe it is not stated that way, but we are told this and we treat others like this.

In so doing, we pop the Bible verses like an antidepressant hoping that if we take enough Bible our struggles will go away. Yet, we have “Mis-Prescribed” this verse. We take this verse along side Psalm 119:11 and we begin to overdose on Scripture without realizing we are killing our spiritual life by missing the true healing found in these verses.

God, Is This Enough?

We are told to take as much Bible as possible to cure our struggles and other issues. We begin memorizing and studying the Bible with highlighters, pencils, and journals. We create a system to get as much of the Scripture in us. We may even spend hundreds of dollars just to make sure we have the “right study Bible” and “right Bible software.”

Then, after some time has passed and our Bible is colorfully underline and we have acquired stacks of verses on index cards, we fall back into our struggle. The shame washes over us. The guilt guillotines our heart from our body. We cry out to God, “But, I studied and memorized! Is this enough?” But, after a dark dive into depression, we determine to go further than we did before. We buy more Bibles, memorize more verses, and begin to plaster verses around our homes like prized art in a museum. Yet again, we fall. Our work seems never good enough so we give up and let fate over take us like the ocean overtaking the Titanic.

In Luke 10:38-42, a woman has a similar story. It is not a story of a cycle of struggle, but it is a struggle of working and frustration. Jesus had come to the home of Martha and Mary. They both knew (factually) who Jesus was. Yet, Martha did not quite have the right relational knowledge of Jesus. She busied herself with many tasks in order to impress Jesus. It may have been for a blessing or for an answered request. Whatever the reason, Martha worked to get Jesus to notice her. She worked herself into a frustration and the gasket blew.

Relationship with God over the Words of God

Jesus calms Martha down after she demands she gets help from Mary. She was frustrated that none of her chores and doings got the attention of Jesus. Yet, Jesus gives her the right way to relate to him in Luke 10:41-42. It is found at the feet of Jesus.

The right relationship with Jesus is not found in impressing him. It is found sitting down at the feet of Jesus.

The teaching of the sufficiency of Scripture is true, but it needs to be in relationship with the God of the Word; not with the Words of God. We find healing at the feet of Jesus by knowing him on a personal level through his Word. Look at II Peter 1:3 and Psalm 119:11 again. It is through the knowledge of HIM that we have everything we need. We will not sin when we treasure HIS word.

It is not through the memorizing and careful study of Scripture that heals us. It is being at the feet of Jesus through the Word that brings the healing we seek.

Coming to the Healer

Our struggles are deep. Our struggles strangle us in the stillness of our day. When we have fallen, we look at our Bible and think it is not enough anymore. So we give up hope. We want to smack the next person who tells us to read the Bible or to memorize a certain passage. We have done that.

We have spent all our money and time on Bible studies. We feel like the woman suffering from continual bleeding as told in Mark 5:25-34. Just like her, we have spent everything to stop the bleeding wound of our struggle from killing us. Yet, we need to have the same belief: “If I just touch his clothes, I’ll be made well.” She believed healing came from Jesus himself; not from the works she did. Our healing comes from the same source. It is Jesus who heals us; not our Bible studies. We can touch Jesus through the Bible. The power of healing comes from the relationship we have with Jesus through the Bible. I cannot have a relationship with my wife only by meticulously studying her letters. I need to have a relationship with her through those letters and by spending time with her personally.

If we want healing, we must begin to tear away the roofing of memorizing and studying in order to get to the personal relationship with Jesus. A list of verses we have memorized will not have any power to heal us unless it is first put at the feet of Jesus. We will not be healed unless we get to Jesus. We will not help others unless we show them Jesus over a prescription of Bible memory. We need to take them to Jesus like the men did with their paralyzed friend in Mark 2:1-12.

A Relationship Over an Overdose

Individuals who overdose are trying to get rid of pain, depression, or other things. An overdose is dangerous to our physical health. Our spiritual life can resemble the same as we want to get rid of struggles. A Bible overdose is dangerous, because it focuses on how much we can memorize and study in an attempt to be healed from our struggles. Our healing becomes about our works. We become frustrated and discouraged, and we give up to the waves of fate tossing us back and forth till our struggles eventually drown us.

However, that is not the message of the Gospel. Jesus didn’t demand the individuals he healed prove themselves worthy by their works. He doesn’t demand the same of you. Jesus wants you to come to him in faith. He wants a relationship with you over seeing the stacks of index cards containing the verses you have memorized. He wants to heal you because he loves you.

Healing does not come from the conquest of Scripture, but in surrendering into a relationship with the Lord of the Scriptures.

So, let’s stop memorizing verses like popping antidepressants. Instead, let’s come to Scripture as coming to the feet of Jesus. We do have everything we need in the Bible, but it is not found in overdosing on the Bible. It is found in the relationship with Jesus Christ through his Word.

Commercialized Conversion

“The real test of a saint is not one’s willingness to preach the gospel, but one’s willingness to do something like washing the disciples’ feet.”
– Oswald Chambers

One of my favorite Christmas movies is Miracle on 34th Street. It tells the story of a girl meeting a man who claims to be Santa Claus. However, her mother is quite concerned over this belief. With the tension of who this man is, a trial commences to determine once and for all if this man is really Santa Claus.

One scene from this movie sticks out as pertinent to the discussion ahead. This man has been hired to play Santa Claus at Macy’s department store. While getting ready for work, he and a coworker have an interesting conversation.
(View scene here)

“Don’t care what Christmas stands for, just make a buck make a buck.” When we think about that line, it is a sad reality. The truth is we see this playing out in our culture’s view of Christmas.

But, let’s apply it to giving the Gospel: “Don’t care what the Gospel stands for, just make a convert make a convert.”

Does that phrase shock you? We may not have heard a pastor say that while preaching, but does it describe the way we give the Gospel? Have we commercialized conversion?

Product or Relationship?

Have you ever walked into a store and immediately was barraged with their sales? Buy 1 get 2nd 50% off! Buy 2 get 3rd free! Free gift with purchase!
In working retail, I remember having to know each sale we were having. I had to know the products on sale, and I had to know how to sell it.

Anytime we give the Gospel to an individual, we are asking them to accept what we are saying. It can be like selling something due to using persuasion. But, the question comes down to, “What are you offering?”

Think about it. When giving the Gospel, what are you offering to the other person? Is it a free home in Heaven? A get out of Hell free card? Or are you showing Jesus?

The majority of time, we tend to offer Heaven over Hell: “Jesus saves you from Hell,” “Turn or burn,” “Road to Heaven” etc. These are phrases used in tracts and evangelistic methodologies today. Doesn’t it sound like we are just selling a product or eternal real estate?

For example, if a person called you saying, “Would you rather spend the rest of your life in the desert or in a tropical resort?” Wouldn’t you pick the resort over the desert? Usually after that initial question comes the task you must do in order to get to the resort.

No one would want to spend the rest of their life in the desert. We would want the resort, and we would probably do anything to get there if this was especially our eternal destination.

Sound familiar?

In I Corinthians 1:22-23, Paul states his preaching is centered on one person: Jesus Christ. His evangelistic concern was to preach where Christ had not been preached yet (Romans 15:20). Was Paul’s message concerned about whether a person chose Heaven or Hell? His concern was for the individual to know Jesus Christ. Even when we look at Paul’s sermon in Acts 17:22-31. h=He isn’t giving a choice of burning in Hell or living in a golden mansion in Heaven. Acts 16:25-34 provides a one on one witnessing opportunity Paul had with the Philippian jailer. Do you see the phrase, “Let me show you how to know for sure you are going to Heaven”? Do you see the phrase, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”? Paul was more concerned about showing how to have a relationship with the risen Savior than selling real estate for our eternal destination.

Salesmen or Witnesses?

A product cannot be sold without a salesman. He must know the product, the customers, and the strategy to get his product sold.

Now turn your thoughts to giving the Gospel. What is the current mindset in giving the Gospel?

Usually, people think of giving or leaving tracts. We see this done at restaurants, in stores, and observing people handing out tracts on the street corner. Think about how people might begin a conversation to give the Gospel: “Would you like to know for sure you are going to Heaven when you die?” “May I give you something to read?” These are just two examples. But, isn’t this a sales strategy?

We see ourselves as a Christian salesmen wanting to win a convert in order to gain Gospel Salesman of the month when we get to Heaven. But, is that the right mindset?

In Acts 1:8, Jesus calls his disciples to be witnesses. The greek word used for “witnesses” is “μάρτυρες” or “martyrs.” A witness is someone who tells of an experience that has personally affected them. It could be a victim of a crime or someone relaying the success they experienced through a certain program. A martyr is someone who is killed over what they believe and speaking it in order to prove it is true. None of these terms indicate “one who sells a product.” In fact, Matthew 28:19-20 commands us to make disciples and to teach. There is no sales pitch involved.

A witness is honestly a passive person. They saw something happen or something happened to them. It is then their job to tell their story; and in the case of a court room, persuade the jury the story is true. But, in our case, a witness is telling of Jesus. None of us have actually seen Heaven or Hell. But, we have experienced Jesus. Therefore, we are witnesses of what Jesus has done in our lives; not witnesses of what Heaven will be like.

Convert or Disciple?

The final component to a sale transaction is the customer. If you want to be good at sales, you need to know your audience: demographics, feelings towards your product, and how it could benefit your specific audience. Basically, you need to know your audience’s knowledge, interest, and opinion of your product in order to be a successful salesman.

We do have an audience when giving the Gospel. It is perfectly normal to want to know about your audience before giving the Gospel (there are plenty of examples in the Bible of this). But, the question is: how do you view your audience?

How do you view those who need the Gospel? Usually, people talk about converts. A convert in this context is, “a person who has been persuaded to change their religious faith or other beliefs.” Giving the Gospel becomes about how many people we can get on our side. We see those who are unbelievers, and we want to win their souls, or be a soul winner. Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to give the Gospel. However, are we just giving the Gospel in order to keep track of how many souls we have won? Is it a competition? Therefore, the unbeliever becomes nothing more than someone to use for our own glory as we parade around the numbers we saw saved.

Jesus uses a different word: disciple. Matthew 28:19-20 is the classical passage where Jesus commands us to go make disciples. A disciple is “a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.” It is a human in a relationship with someone over them. A Christian disciple is someone who is in a relationship with Jesus as His follower.

Mark 1:16-20 is an excellent story illustrating what a disciple is. Jesus didn’t call Simon, Andrew, and John to the shore to sell them something or to change their beliefs. Instead, he calls them to follow him. He calls them to step into a disciple-Lord relationship with him. It is more than just changing a belief system. A disciple is in a relationship. Is the church just a place with people with similar beliefs? No. It is referred to as the body or a community working together (I Corinthians 12:12-27).

“Uncommericializing” the Gospel

It is a sad reality that most of the efforts today of giving the Gospel reflect a sales mentality. We, the salesmen, try to sell a product to our customers.

Did Jesus have the same mentality? John 4:1-42 gives us the answer. Jesus, the Savior of the world, offers himself as living water to heal sinners and be in a relationship with them.

Do we see the difference between the two?

Let’s make it practical: Dinner at a restaurant

You are sitting at your table, and your server approaches. You order drinks and food. When the food arrives, something is wrong with your order. You tell the server to take it back and get it right. After the server leaves, you whisper to your spouse, “There goes her tip.” The conversation, then, gets enthralling at your table. The server asks, “How is everything?” You quickly respond, “Great!” Then, you go back to your conversation. Before you realize it, there is a slip of paper in front of you: the bill. You quickly pay the amount, then before you leave (in order to fulfill your Christian duty) you place a tract on the table with a meager tip or even no tip.

Did you know this is a common occurrence: Christians eating out, leaving a tract, and not tipping their server? In fact, I have talked to many servers who have confessed to me because of this action, they want nothing to do with Jesus.

How would Jesus interact with others while eating out? Would he care about the server? Would he be up in arms if his food wasn’t exactly how he wanted it? Would he complain at a long wait time? Would he leave a tract? Would he tip?

Jesus wants a relationship with people more than knowing how many tracts we passed out. Jesus cares about the server who may be living an immoral life. He would make sure she left with a smile. He would make sure she knew she was appreciated by the tip given. Jesus cares about the homeless, the orphan, and even those who blatantly live in sin.

Jesus is known as the friend of sinners. In the way we give the Gospel, are we highlighting that? Are we willing to wash feet over giving a tract? Are we willing to be witnesses of the relationship we have with Jesus in order to invite others into that relationship as disciples?

Commercials usually get ignored or turned off when they become annoying.

Is our Gospel a real estate commercial? Or is our Gospel about the redeeming relationship found in Jesus?

The Greatest of These Being?

The world does not understand theology or dogma, but it understands love and sympathy.” – D.L. Moody

1517 – The start of the one of the greatest years in Church History: the Reformation. Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses in Wittenberg. The whole course of history changed.

1526 – The year the New Testament was printed in English. It was one of the greatest years for the English speaking world.

These two years alone are considered greatest among other years in church history. Sure, there are some others we could include, but these two especially stand out.

What makes something great? It isn’t the year itself. 1517 is a cool number. 17 is a prime number. But, by itself it isn’t the greatest. What makes something great is what happens or what characterizes that year.

So what makes a Christian great? What out of all the characteristics of being a Christian is the greatest?

“Greatest” in the Bible

There are many places in the Bible that mention the term “Greatest”. From a quick search using the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), I found 31 uses of the word “greatest.” We see arguments on who is the greatest (Luke 9:46). We find “greatest” being used in context of looking at a crowd of people (Acts 8:10). We also discover the questioning of which law is the greatest (Matthew 22:36-38).

But, is there a passage describing what is the greatest characteristic that should be found in a Christian? Yes! It is the passage that we hear at weddings and dating couples memorize as they pursue each other. It is the passage we sometimes make a list of in order to fulfill this one characteristic. It is 1 Corinthians 13.

You probably even guess this passage before I revealed it. In fact we could go through each aspect of what love is. However, I want to skip over that. Look at 1 Corinthians 13:13. Faith, hope, and love are the three Christian characteristics we see listed. But, which one is the greatest one? You know the verse. However, do we practice it? Or have other things usurped its throne?

The Greatest Being… Theological Debate?

As one who has been through seminary, theological debating is a key component in seminary. I remember many debates (some I was involved in) over theological or ministerial issues: dispensational vs. covenant theology, issues in calvinism, Bible translation debates, church music debates, church practice debates, Christian involvement in social issues debates, etc. This list could go on and on and on.

There are so many books written about these debates. We pick a side and spend hours studying up and filling our holsters with our “silver bullets.” When we come across another Christian not from our camp, we take that opportunity to engage in “theological interrogation.” It isn’t about who the person is or what they enjoy doing. Usually we go straight for the jugular, “What do you believe about (fill in the blank)?” Then if that person disagrees with us, we hold them in suspicion and keep “those Christians” at an arm’s distance.

However, is this attitude and debating the greatest characteristic of a Christian? Did Jesus say the world would know us as His disciples by how well we can study theology, debate theology, and hold “the right position”? John 13:35 does not read that way. Even though studying theology and understanding doctrine is a good thing (II Timothy 2:15), it isn’t the greatest characteristic of a Christian.

The Greatest Being… Our Political Fight?

When you turn on the news and check your feed on social media, politics tend to be one of the most trending topics (or could be the most trending topic of today). We get involved in our country’s politics. We get behind a candidate or political party. We have issues we fight to see changed or kept in our country. We protest, write Facebook posts, tweet, wear MAGA hats or other attire of one party or another, and we associate with people depending on political views.

However, is this the greatest characteristic of being a Christian? Understandably, there are good causes to fight for and injustices to right, but is this the defining characteristic of a Christian?

In Romans 13:1-7 we are called to submit to governing authorities and respect them. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 we are urged to pray for our governing authorities. However, Titus 3:9 hold an interesting command. We are commanded to avoid disputes about the law; which in this case is referring to political law due to the context being about Christians relating to those outside the church. Paul tells Titus such disputes are worthless and unprofitable. We may think about Acts 5:29 in regards to Christians and politics. However, that is a much longer discussion and you can read my article on it: Playing the Card.

1 Corinthians 13:13 does not read, “And these three things remain: faith, hope, and politics. The greatest of these being politics.” That would be adding to Scripture.

The Greatest Being… Our Separation?

Could the greatest characteristic of a Christian be our separation? Separation, here, is referring to how Christians distance themselves from the lifestyles and practices of the world. The key verse for this being I John 2:15-17. We are told to not love the world or things in the world. We are to be living sacrifices to God and not conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2).

Again, is this the defining and greatest characteristic of a Christian? Does Jesus say the world will know us as His disciples by what we are separated from? Recheck John 13:35. That is not found in there. In fact, in John 17:15-18 Jesus requests the Father not to take the disciples out of the world, but instead send them into the world. As it comes to our generation of believers, Christ prays we would be known to the world by the love the Father has shown us in Christ (John 17:23). Even in our various practices of living for Christ, according to Romans 14:13-23, we are to live by a law of love.

Forgetting to Love: The Greatest Characteristic

A rose thrown to the ground. It is a symbol of rejection. A man gives his girlfriend a rose. She throws it onto the ground and runs after the man on the motorcycle. This image is common in our romantic genres of books and movies.

A rose given is a symbol of love. When we see it, our hearts melt and we may begin to tear up. Did you know God has given us a rose? He gave us a symbol of love: Jesus – the crimson red of his blood, the nail-pierced hands reaching out to us, the incarnate God living among us to redeem us.

Yet, how have many of us responded? We have cast God’s rose to the ground and ran after theological debates, rule keeping, political agendas, and diligently keeping a separation from the world. This is not a definitive list. Many more things could be added.

It is sad to see many Christians leave the church due to the hurt caused by other Christians. “But don’t leave the church because of some hypocrites,” say many. But, why are we using this statement as an excuse to allow the nasty interactions that happen in churches and Christian institutions?

When will Christians stop body shaming each other? When will Christians stop being suspicious of each other? When will Christians stop making fun of those with disabilities? When will Christians stop grading each other by their own standards? When will Christians stop “one-upping” each other? When will Christians stop… (you fill in the blank)?

When will Christians begin to come along side each other and love each other? When will Christians befriend and support? When will Christians be willing to pick up God’s rose from the ground and give it to another?

There are many of us who secretly guard instances of Christians hurting us. We want to leave because Christians have become known for other things rather than love. The constant stabbing of brothers and sisters in Christ creates compassion-closed calluses. In order to open these calluses, we need to be willing to help the hurt learn to love again.

The greatest characteristic of a Christian is love. It is not just telling the truth in love. It is a love to help the hurting, to hug the crying, to befriend the other, to reach out. It means we do these things without a Gospel tract in the other hand. Our love is showing Christ to others, and letting the Holy Spirit do the convicting and the transforming. Wait for the time to give the Gospel. One act of kindness doesn’t mean they are ready to hear.

The greatest of these is love. Pick up God’s rose. Who do you need to give it to? Who needs that text, call, hug, or gift? Who needs you to love them? Hurt Christians are callused. The lost world is watching. What do we do first? Is it love? Or is it another?

The Offensive Gospel?

“The gospel is open to all; the most respectable sinner has no more claim on it than the worst.”
– Martin Lloyd-Jones

“I’m offended” has become a joke in conversations today. Whether we are speaking about race, religion, or civil rights, we tend to start our dialogue with, “I don’t want this to sound offensive, but…” It is like the word “offensive” has become the buzzword of our culture and social media.

However, there has been a phrase that Christians have been using in our current culture, “the gospel is offensive” or “people will be offended by the Gospel.”

Are these phrases good to use? Is the Gospel supposed to be offensive?

What would Jesus think about calling his work “offensive”?

A Defining Starting Block

Before we jump into this discussion, we need to have a definition of “offensive.” What does this word actually mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “Offensive” is defined as:
1.) a. Making attack: aggresive; b. Of, relating to, or designed for attack; c. Of, or relating to, an attempt to score in a game or contest
2.) Giving painful or unpleasant sensation: nauseous; obnoxious
3.) Causing displeasure or resentment
(As a noun it is defined as, “an act of attacking a party.”)

This definition gives a good word picture of something that is offensive. It is something that is meant to attack someone, to give them resentment, or a distaste towards something. Something that is offensive are words or actions meant to cause the displeasure of another.

What is the Gospel?

“The Gospel is offensive.” That is what we hear or say. However, looking at the definition of “offensive,” is the Gospel offensive? First, what is the Gospel?

Has someone ever asked you, “What is the Gospel?”

The Gospel starts with one person: Jesus. The Gospel begins and ends with Jesus. We are the recipients of the Gospel.

In Genesis 3:15, Adam and Eve have disobeyed God, and through their actions sin is brought into the world. They are kicked out of the garden. But, God speaks this incredible verse. He saw that sin is tantalizing to our fallen mind. He knew what sin would do to us. So, God promised Adam and Eve a savior. He promised the crushing of the serpent.

The Gospel is the fulfillment of this promise. Jesus taking our sin on him, crushing the snake, and justifying us before God by clothing us in his righteousness.

The Gospel is how we, who are lost in dark sin, can be made clean from sin. It is the promise of not being under the wrath of God, but being brought into the family of God as sons, daughters, and heirs. It is centered around Jesus. He is the one who works our salvation. He died for us, he rose for us, he justified us, he is sanctifying us, and he will glorify us (Ephesians 2:1-10).

The Gospel is Jesus.

“Offensive” in the Life of Jesus

Since Jesus is the heart of the Gospel, then we need to look at his life to see if the Gospel is offensive. Let’s turn our attention to the Gospels and look into the interactions Jesus had.

Jesus was known as many things: teacher, rabbi, Lord, Son of Man, etc. But one phrase is used of Jesus to describe his interactions: a friend of sinners. He was known to eat and fellowship with sinners. In fact, in many situations, he either put himself in the way of sinners (John 4:1-42) or sinners were drawn to him (Luke 7:36-50). There was something that drew sinners to Jesus. There was something in Jesus that urged him to place himself in the way of sinners. Love was this something (John 3:16; Matthew 14:14; Mark 6:34). Ones who came to Jesus longed to hear the phrase, “Your sins are forgiven (Mark 2:5).”

However, there was a group of people Jesus did offend. In fact he called them many unkind things: Fools, neglecters, unmarked graves, hypocrites, oppressive, approvers of evil (Luke 11:37-54). These people were the religious leaders. This group did not like Jesus. He disrupt their power over people. He disrupted their manipulation of the Law. He disrupted the treatment of people. The religious leaders were offended so much that they falsely accused Jesus and executed him. Ones who knew the Scripture and were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of God’s people, killed the Messiah.

Look at Luke 7:36-54. This story beautifully displays the heart of Jesus. While dining at the home of a pharisee (a religious leader), a woman known as a sinner (someone who is an outcast) comes and stands at the feet of Jesus. Her only possession with her is an expensive alabaster jar of perfume. Jesus looks her in the eyes, and she begins to weep. She anoints his feet with the perfume and wipes them with her hair. She is literally giving herself to Jesus, not in a sexual manner, but in one pleading for mercy.

Look at the reaction of Jesus and the pharisee. The pharisee was shocked. He couldn’t believe that a man of God would allow a woman like that to come even near him. She is a sinner. He stiffed arm her. Jesus, on the other hand, responded (after a quick parable) with, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

By the reactions of the two, who would this woman be more offended by? The pharisee. There was something about Jesus that drew this woman to him. She was not offended by him or his message.

The Offensive Gospel in our Culture

It is interesting to see who was offended by the message of Jesus. Yet, do we follow in Jesus’ example in our interactions as we give the gospel?

When we talk about the “Gospel is offensive,” who or what is being offended? What is being attacked? Is it the person? Or the sinful and fallen nature of the person?

We stand on the street corner yelling at people, we leave tracks at restaurants with no tip, we shove Scripture at people. Does that attract people to the Gospel?

Look at the life of Jesus. He was approached by sinners because of his message. The religious leaders were the ones that chased people away with their rules, traditions, and other actions. They were the ones offended by Jesus.

Sinners should never be offended by the person giving the Gospel. The message should never change, but should never be given in an offensive manner. How did Jesus and the apostles give the Gospel? Did they start with “give up this sin”? Or “you are a sinner”? In certain contexts, yes. The majority of the time they started with God. It is only towards the end of their messages they mention repentance.

How do we present the Gospel? Is the crux of the Gospel Heaven or Hell or the giving up of sin? Or is the heart of the Gospel Jesus? People do not need to “clean themselves up” before coming to Jesus. People should see us as ones who want to know their lives, be their friends, and share with them the living-giving Gospel of Jesus.

Stop Being Offensive

The Gospel should never be offensive. In our definition above, the Gospel should never fall into any of those categories. Yes, we are fighting against sin and Satan in this world. But, it is not by the weapons of the world: sarcasm, yelling, screaming, etc. It is how Jesus did it: one relationship at a time.

The Gospel is about new life. What is offensive about that? Is the reason we think the Gospel is offensive is actually because of the way we have been giving it? Have we traded relational ministry for quick conversions? Have we only wanted people to give us a reaction to our presentation of the Gospel so we can claim persecution?

The Gospel is an affront to our sinful nature. But, how is it packaged? Is it through harsh comments, Bible verse shotgun pellets, and picket signs? No, it is seen the incarnation of Jesus Christ: God born in a manger, the friend of sinners, the Innocent One executed, and the Divine One risen conquering sin and death.

If our Gospel is all about turning from sin, then we have missed its heart: Jesus. He forgave, and people changed. We do not change people in order for Jesus to forgive. In fact the forsaking of sin and walking in repentance is found in discipleship and sanctification.

When we look at giving the Gospel, are we proud of being offensive? Or are we proud we are following the example of Jesus?

How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation, I turned to heaven
And spoke Your name into the night
Then through the darkness, Your loving-kindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is finished, the end is written
Jesus Christ, my living hope

Who could imagine so great a mercy?
What heart could fathom such boundless grace?
The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame
The cross has spoken, I am forgiven
The King of kings calls me His own
Beautiful Savior, I’m Yours forever
Jesus Christ, my living hope

Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ, my living hope

– “Living Hope” by Phil Wickham

Playing the Card

“I am or would be of no sect or party, civil or religious, but a lover of mankind. It is my part to mourn over sin, and the misery which sin causes, to be humbled for my own sins especially, to pray for peace, and to preach the gospel. Other things I leave to those who have more leisure and ability, and I leave the whole to Him who does all things well.”
– John Newton

Have you ever gotten a good hand while playing Uno? You have many good cards (skip, draw 4, draw 2, wild, etc). In your mind you strategize when to play each card. As you place each card down, your opponents groan and sigh as they slowly lose their chance at winning. Sometimes in card games we may not have many good cards, but we may have one. We do not play it at any time, but we wait and strategize the perfect timing to put that card into play.

We have seen in life people use various “playing cards” or accusing people of “playing certain cards.” Even as Christians, we have cards that we like to play.

However, there is one card that Christians tend to play a lot in society. It isn’t a “draw 4” or “skip” card. Instead, it has another label: “We obey God rather than man.” This card is taken from Acts 5:29. This card takes on many forms, but it is mainly played in our relationship with government and politics.

But, are we using this card as it is meant to be played? Do we use it as an excuse to not obey government, or is there something else behind this card?

The Card in the Context of the Deck

When considering the phrase found in Acts 5:29 and our use of it, we need to remember that every verse has a context in Scripture.

This particular verse falls into a context of events leading to that statement. These events are found in Acts 3-5. In Acts 3, Peter and John heal a lame man and preach Jesus is the Messiah, He was crucified, raised from the dead, and the people should turn from their sins. However, this message gets Peter and John arrested in Acts 4. The religious leaders are not happy with this message, they command the two to cease preaching this message about Jesus. Once released, the apostles pray for boldness as they share Christ with all around them. Now we come to Acts 5 (where our phrase is contained). Skipping over the graves Ananias and Sapphira, we see the apostles are out sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet again, they are arrested and thrown into prison. But, God is a chain breaker (in this case physically), and miraculously opens the prison doors for the apostles to walk out. When the religious leaders discover the missing prisoners (and how they are back to preaching), they arrest them again. After scolding them and commanding them to stop, cease, and desist preaching, the apostles respond with, “We must obey God rather than people. (Acts 5:29).”

Were the apostles resisting a government order? Were the disciples protesting? Was there any political motivation to their message? Was politics even involved in this situation? No. In fact, politics is not found in the context. The message of the apostles was all about Jesus and who He is. Those who opposed their message were the religious leaders of the community. Yes, they did have power in the community, but could the religious leaders be compared to our government leaders?

When the apostles played the “we ought to obey God rather than man” card, it was in relation with the message they were speaking. In fact, throughout the book of Acts when the apostles are imprisoned, it is over their message of the Gospel and the effect it was having on people.. We do not see Paul singing in prison “This little light of mine I’ll burn down the pagan temples.” We do not see Timothy running through the streets with a petition from Paul asking for signatures to ban immoral behavior. We do see Paul, Peter, and the other apostles speaking out against immoral behavior, but it is addressed to Christians in how to live as Christians. We do not see unbelievers being told to turn from their sins before they are told about Christ.

Babies in the Nile and Standing in the Face of Fire

However, we do see two instances that clearly show God’s people in defiance over government orders (Exodus 1:8-22; Daniel 3:1-30)

In these instances, those who feared God rather than man were rewarded, and they are seen as heroes in our Bible stories. But, again, we need to look at the context. In the case of the Fiery Furnace, the three men are having to choose between who to worship: the king or God. There was a government law in who to choose, but they chose to obey God rather than men. Were they protesting about this law? No, in fact they were respectful to the King why they were not obeying the law (Daniel 3:16:-18). They gave their reason and left their fate in God’s hands, because they knew God is sovereign. They did not have signs or write angry opinions on the wall. They peacefully stated their reason, and resigned the rest to their sovereign God.

In the instance of Exodus, the pharaoh ordered the murder of Hebrew male babies. The Hebrew midwives disobeyed the law. But, what kind of law was it? Was it one about freedom of speech? This law was about murdering children. In this instance, the “we ought to obey God rather than man” card was played in a proper way. The midwives, when summoned by the pharaoh, answered the king and let God take care of the rest. The midwives did not paint “Throwing babies into the nile is vile” across the sphinx. They were peaceful about it. (Now the issue of if the midwives lied and was that condoned is a whole other issue for another discussion).

When we consider these two scenarios where the “we ought to obey God rather than man” card was played, we see two things:
1.) The laws being broken were only broken in their individual lives; they did not require the law to be changed for the entire land. They saw the command went against God’s Word, but they did not protest for it to be changed. They left that in God’s hands, because He is sovereign (Proverbs 21:1).
2.) When questioned about their civil disobedience, they answered peacefully. They did not get into a debate, design turbans and robes with political sayings, or hold marches. The answer given was better stated in a peaceful way and seasoned with grace (Colossians 4:6).

Christian Testimony and Constitutional Rights

But, what about my freedom of speech and my right to protest? Now, we need to turn our attention to 21st Century American society. According to our constitution, we have rights to freedom of speech and freedom to protest.

Yet, according to God’s Word our main goal as Christians is to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). There is nothing in Scripture about forcing governments to hold Christian values. In fact, there is nothing in Scripture where we have to make sure culture is redeemed and living exactly how the Bible states. Instead, we are to make disciples one person at a time. Can God use our obedience to the great commission as a way to change a government or nation? Yes, but it is not our goal. We should take jobs where we can be lights for the Gospel (including in government). But, according to Romans 13:1-7, we should be willing to submit to the government. We should strive to live at peace with all men, and to pray for our government (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Yes, we have constitutional rights in our country. We are very grateful for them. But, is our goal to create a Christian nation or make disciples? Are we willing to give up our rights to using free speech and freedom to protest in order to live out a Christian testimony?

Jesus has every freedom imaginable. He has the right to say whatever he wants and to do whatever he wants; he is God. Yet, God chose a different path in the incarnation. He chose to lay aside his “divine constitutional rights” in order to bring redemption to humanity (Philippians 2:5-11). He could have played the “God card” at any moment he chose. Yet, he strategized when he would use it. He knew the best times to play that card were when it would lead people to him. If we are to have the same mind as Christ, are we willing to lay aside our constitutional rights and freedoms in order to be a Christian witness as we make disciples of all people? Are we willing to play the “we out to obey God rather than man” card only when it leads others to Christ?

Strategizing our Card Playing

The New Testament church lived in a world similar to ours. There were laws they did not like, there was behavior condemned by Scripture being lived out in public, there was oppression, there were rulers and emperors the New Testament believers would rather see off the throne than ruling. Yet, we do not see them attempting to make the Roman Empire a “Christian Empire.” We do not see the New Testament church forcing laws to be changed to fit the teachings of Jesus. We do see them actively obeying Jesus’ command to make disciples of all people. We do see them sharing the Gospel before teaching others how to live as new creatures made in the image of Christ. We do see them striving to live peaceably with all men as shining stars in order to give the Gospel.

We can do the same. Instead of seeing government decisions, supreme court decisions, and political agendas as an opportunities to demand our rights, can we take a different approach? Can we see these things as opportunities to lay aside our constitutional rights in order to peaceably give the Gospel?

How is boycotting stores or throwing away items that may or may not be associated with a movement or political agenda help us make disciples of all nations? How does becoming a poster child for our political party give us opportunities to share Christ? How does picketing and protesting share the light God has given us?

Paul says in Ephesians 6:19-20 he wanted to use his imprisonment as an opportunity to give the Gospel. How can we use our current situation and our current political situation to make disciples of all people? Are we willing to lay aside our constitutional rights and stop playing the “we ought to obey God rather than man” card at every chance in order to have opportunities to share the light of God? Are we willing to strategize when we play that card?

The noise of demanding our freedoms can drown out the quiet voice of the Spirit, and the image of our political t-shirts, signs, and hats can blind people to the image of Christ in us.

Broken Body

“You weren’t an accident. You weren’t mass produced. You aren’t an assembly-line product. You were deliberately planned, specifically gifted, and lovingly positioned on the Earth by the Master Craftsman.”
– Max Lucado


What does it mean to be human? What is my purpose on earth? Why do I hit the alarm each morning, shower, and go about my day? What makes me a person?

These are big questions everyone asks themselves and inquire of others to answer. I know I certainly have.

We live our lives as living examples of the answers we come to believe. Is being a human about how we look? Is it about our minds? Are our bodies what makes us human?

Our culture has through many narratives tried to answer these questions: Sci-Fi films, Zombie films, classical literature, children’s books, etc. Our narratives have too many answers to sift through to come to a final answer.

Are we just to pick an answer or come up with our own?

What about me? A 29 year old disabled man who cannot run or walk without a limp, wears leg braces, cannot play sports, possibly cannot have biological children, and who cannot even do the simplest things a normal human should be able to do. What is the answer for me? What makes me human?

Looking Down from the Bell Tower

In the story The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo is hidden away from the world due to his deformity. His deformity became something to be feared, to be mocked, and to be crown at the Feast of Fools. His dream was to be out there, out from Notre Dame, and living among the people of Paris.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr. Victor Frankenstein creates a human made from the parts of corpses. Yet, when the Creature (yes, that is what he is called) is in the world, all he faces is torment, mocking, and displacement. When he confronts the doctor, not even his own creator wants him.

Those who have a broken body know that these stories (and many others) accurately paint reality. We look down from our bell towers wishing to be out there among the others. We feel like sometimes our own creator does not want us.

Why?

Our broken bodies. Our culture shows us that if you fit a certain standard of body image, then you are considered human. Where does a broken body fit its jigsawed shape into our culture’s mold?

Rejected by Our Primordial Slime

In the scientific teaching of Evolution, each human came from some sort of primordial slime, and over time evolved into the humans we see now. Evolution is supposed to be developing the best, and continuing to that advanced state. The survival of the fittest brings out the best.

So if I’m not the fittest, am I meant to die out? In order to make sure we continue the best of the human race, should we follow the ways Hitler? Should we kill off those who are weak and only contaminate our humanity? In the Holocaust, the Jews were not the first to be executed. The disabled laid the paving stones for the methodology of the worst crime against humanity in history.

Those with broken bodies have been rejected by Evolution. We are not the fittest or the strongest. Our culture’s narratives and stories give many answers that we may choose from to answer what it means to be human. But, is rejection from our own primordial slime the only option for being born with or by an accident having a broken body?

If Evolution is fact, then those with a broken body are those who should be cast aside without purpose, without place, and without being considered a true human.

The Forgotten Answer

Since our culture rejects those with a broken body, and pretty much our primordial slime does as well, then should not all those with a broken body end it? It is logical. But, that line of thinking is missing a piece. It has not considered a forgotten answer.

In the library of answers to the question of “what makes a human?” sits an old book hidden between the other volumes. If you aren’t looking carefully at each book, this one is easy to miss.

On the first page it says, “In the beginning God…”

It does not start with “You are special,” “You have been given a gift,” or even “Look at yourself in the mirror.” Instead this book starts with someone else. This person is credited with forming you (Genesis 1:27; Psalm 139:13). He is known by his character: holy, loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, and compassionate (there are a lot more).

This forgotten answer begins with a forgotten person: God.

The Reason for Creation

We may be thinking, “So it is God’s fault for giving me or this person a broken body. No wonder people do not want to have anything to do with him.” I get it. It’s a logical conclusion. But, it is a logical conclusion from the wrong perspective.

When we see broken bodies from our perspective, we miss what God sees. In Genesis 1:26-28, God does not just create man, and “poof” man exists. Instead, God creates man with a place and a purpose in mind. He places man on earth for a purpose (Genesis 2:15). He writes out each day for each individual for a reason (Psalm 139:16). Yet, we are not pawns in a game of chess, or marionettes in a puppet show. We are like a character specifically drawn up by an author who weaves our stories together to reveal the ultimate story of redemption founded on Jesus Christ.

Brokenness Used

God, our Creator, makes each of our bodies for a purpose. He makes brokenness to be used.

Abraham considered his body (more specifically his sperm) dead, and thought he would never have a son (Hebrews 11:12). Yet, God used the many tears of brokenness when all around Abraham and Sarah people were having children. God brought about a child of promise. Their broken bodies paved the way for a miracle.

Hannah (I Samuel 1) could not bear children. She cried many tears that streamed down her broken body. Yet, even when called out as drunk by the priest, God used the brokenness of a womb to bring another miracle child. This child, Samuel, would be considered one of the greatest men in the Old Testament.

Mephibosheth (a man never healed by God) was crippled from an accident. He was an outcast on two accounts. First, he was crippled and would be displaced from society. Second, he was the grandson of King Saul. When David took over the throne, it was David’s right to kill anyone in the line of Saul. Yet again, God stepped in. David welcomed Mephibosheth into his palace and treated him as one of the family. God uses this man’s life as an example of God’s grace towards us (II Samuel 9; Romans 8:15-17).

In John 9, a man born blind is used to prove the divinity of Jesus. A woman, in Mark 5:25-34, could not stop the bleeding from her menstrual cycle. Her body was broken for 12 years. Yet, Jesus showed that God will use broken bodies to show people their need of Jesus.

A broken body is created to be used. God uses brokenness to points other to himself, and to the love and compassion of the Savior of the world.

Living from Heaven’s Eyes

It is easy to brush this off, and say God is sick for using brokenness for his own glory. But, what is the other choice? Does trying every day to come up with a purpose for your broken body seem like a cycle you want to continue in?

Yet, what about being a part of God’s story? What about not knowing how he is going to use your brokenness, but having the certain hope that he will?

If you notice, one verse has not been mentioned in this post. Other verses in that chapter have been, but not that specific verse. See, when I have struggled with what makes me human with having a broken body, most people quote it. Honestly, hearing that verse over and over as the answer feels like a cop out.

“Yeah, you can praise God for your body because of (fill in the blank). I doubt you would be praising God if you were in my situation.” My own thoughts betray my view of what it means to be human. We get so caught up in the snare of thinking that our humanness is found in our bodies and their physical abilities. If that is the case, then I am no better than a zombie. It clearly means that if I do not have a normal body, then I do not have a place or a purpose for my life. These thoughts put me at the center of my woes, and no more than the weakest of the species that should be wiped out.

Yet, the only way we can properly live out Psalm 139:14 is living from heaven’s eyes. We are not in a bell tower. We are not a creature displaced. We are created by God. We have been given a place. We have been given a purpose, and God has given some a broken body to fulfill that purpose in our place. It might mean we are never able to have children, or have bathroom needs, or walk with a limp, or be wheelchair bound, or suffer from chronic pain, or deal with things no one will understands. But, it is when we are certain of the hope of God using us in his story of redemption we can cry out Psalm 139:14. It is not a verse of grit your teeth and believe it. It is a verse in awe of the truth that God has formed us perfectly for the days he has planned for us written in his story (Psalm 139:13-16).

When we snicker, or laugh, or make fun of someone’s broken body, we are taking our culture’s narratives and forcing them to live as Quasimodo or Frankenstein’s Creature. We take away their God given story. We are telling them that because their body is broken, it is better to be used as a joke or even not exist at all. We have then traded the worship of the Creator for the worship of the creature.

What does it mean to be human?

It means to be one formed by God, placed for a purpose that is written out in God’s book that is to be lived out in the body given to us.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”
– C.S. Lewis

“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.” This line starts the famous book series A Series of Unfortunate Events. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are orphans from losing both parents in a mysterious house fire. The story follows their lives as they try to evade Count Olaf, an evil man who wants their fortune.

As the story progresses, we discover a secret organization with a schism. We discover, that in reality, we have come in the middle of the story and the Baudelaire orphans are caught in the middle of something bigger than just the death of their parents. They are caught in a story of revenge. A stolen sugar bowl, an argument leading to the use of a poisonous dart, and a death that ignited a fire of revenge.

In our own lives, there are unfortunate events. We experience pain, betrayal, and loss. We feel the stab of words, and the execution of actions leaves us hurt. In us a spark ignites, and we feel deep inside we must fight fire with fire.

But, what does the Bible say about revenge and forgiveness? How can we make sure our lives do not turn into a series of unfortunate events?

Give Me What You Owe

A man stood before the judge. He was on trial for evading the IRS, and the federal judge brought up the debt he owed. Since he was a young man, he never paid his debts to anyone. He would wriggle and manipulate his way out of things. But, not any more. When the total was given, and everyone in attendance was shocked. The amount was more than anyone could think of paying. “You are found guilty, and are sentenced to prison until all can be paid.”

The man turned around and saw his wife holding their first born. Tears began welling up in her eyes. She knew she would never see him again. Realizing the weight of his guilt, the man turned to the judge. “Your honor, I have a debt that I cannot pay. It is too big, and I deserve to be separated from this life and from my wife and child. I was wrong in breaking the law. If you could find it in your heart, would the courts please forgive me?”

The judge looked at the man, then to his wife and child. His heart filled with compassion. “Sir, I am a just judge, but I am also a compassionate judge. I forgive your debt and set you free.” The man was given some clothes to change out of his orange jumpsuit, and he walked out of the courts a free man.

The next day while the man was out for a run, he passed a neighbor. “That man owes me $50! He never paid me back.” So the man walked up to the neighbor and yelled, “Look man, I gave you $50 last month, and where is it? Did you think you could take advantage of my generosity? Go inside and get me my money.”

“I’m so sorry. We have been on hard times, and I am working on getting your money. I need more time.” Unwilling to listen, the man dragged his neighbor to the courts and sued his neighbor.

When the day of the lawsuit came, the man stood with his attorney waiting for the judge to come in. A familiar face sat down. It was the judge who pardoned him. “You sir,” said the Judge, “You look familiar. Didn’t I forgive your debt and pardon your sentence to prison?” “Yes, your honor,” the man replied. “Then why are you here suing your neighbor?”

You can probably guess the man was not well received in court.

This story may be familiar to you. It is found in Matthew 18:21-35. After being asked how often should we forgive, Jesus told the same story. It wasn’t about the amount of times to be kept in record, but about the attitude of forgiveness.

Remembering Our Debt

See, Jesus told this parable to remind us about our debt. All of us have a debt. So often we are quick to point out the “heinous sins” in others, but we are just like them. Romans 1:26-32 is frequently used to prove God does not approve of homosexuality. But if you read the entire passage, we will see God does not approve of any sin. There is an item or two on that list each of us can check off. That is why God’s wrath is revealed (Romans 1:18). It is not because of their sin. It is because of our sin. We all sin, and we all would rather turn a deaf ear to God than face our reality. Therefore, we are guilty (Romans 3:23). Our sentence is not a fine to pay, it is death and separation (Romans 6:23; Romans 5:12).

But, God the creator and just judge sees our state and our guilt. Even before anyone can ask for forgiveness (which no one did; not even in the garden), God sent Jesus to take on a human body, take our sin as his identity, and die in our place (Genesis 3:15; Romans 5:8-11). God forgives our debt because of Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).

Yet, we are so quick to lose the memory of our debt before God. We forget Christ’s death and resurrection. We forget how we came before God and asked for our forgiveness before the Divine Court only trusting in the grace seen in our savior’s blood giving us his righteousness.

We forget this moment, because we remember something else…

Our Little Black Book

Have you ever looked at someone and remembered that last conversation and that comment that stung your soul? Our mind is like a little black book. We remember the hurt done to us, and we mentally write down his name in our black book. How many times have we unfriended someone from social media just because we remembered their actions? How many times did we change directions in a church hallway in order to avoid that person?

Being bitter is having a mental little black book. If we are not careful, our little black book could span the amount of books in a 13 book series. We see the face, and inside that spark of revenge ignites.

Now, we would quickly admit that we would not murder that person or harm their family. But, don’t we think of the best come-back? Don’t we think about how to put that person in their place? Don’t we plot words, rumors, or anything subtle? We may not want to start house fires, but we are excellent at passive aggressive revenge.

Hebrews 12:15 warns us to not let a root bitterness (or a little black book) become a weed in our minds and hearts. When that happens it will only cause trouble and hurt many.

No Happy Ending

In A Series of Unfortunate Events, many people die by the hand of Count Olaf. He is so set on destroying the Baudelaire orphans and getting their fortune that everyone suffers (even himself). Why? We read that the Baudelaire mother stole a sugar bowl and was part of an argument that ended in the accidental death of Count Olaf’s father; leaving him an orphan. Seeing her leave the opera, Count Olaf says (in the Netflix series), “She will burn.”

Two sides are drawn, and a whole 13 book series spends thousands of pages telling of a scheme of revenge that leaves no happy ending. Count Olaf thinks he will be happy having the Baudelaire fortune through his schemes, but he ends up dying with nothing. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are still left as orphans with no home, the secret organization has fallen apart, many families split apart, and many people dead. You would think it would have a happy ending, but that is not how this story goes. (A quick glimpse of this story)

When we scheme, plot, and think about how to get back and get revenge (however that may look), we only end up in a series of unfortunate events. We are alienated from people who were once close to us, we burn bridges, we become thin-iced so people have to be careful what they say or do around us. We fortify ourselves behind walls, and we lose the ability to truly love people. We hold people at arms length with suspicion. Our lives become a series of unfortunate events where we never get peace and justice. We don’t get a happy ending.

Breaking the Cycle

However, we can write another chapter that breaks this cycle. We can break our series of unfortunate events; even if we do not get justice now.

As Jesus hung on the cross, he forgave those who betrayed him, made false accusations, stripped him, whipped him, and nailed him to a cross (Luke 23:34). And while on that cross, Jesus paid your debt and offers you forgiveness. All we have to do is confess our sins, and he will totally forgive us (1 John 1:9). Everything can be forgiven. We are not the victim when it comes to our state before God, we all have sinned. Yet, we can all be forgiven.

But, God’s forgiveness becomes the basis for how we live (Ephesians 4:32). We are not to live like the man who choked his neighbor for what he owed. Instead, we are to be like Christ. This means we are to forgive. We are to not hold things over people. God does not hold our sin against us because of Christ; therefore, we need to be quick to forgive, let people go, and burn our mental black book.

How Will Your Story End?

“There is no happy endings here,” is one of the final lines of an episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The author states, “If everyone fought fire with fire, the whole world would go up in smoke.”

I had a mental black book, and it was full of names. It went back many, many years. Holding on to my black book caused me to distrust people, push people away, burn bridges, and hurt people who honestly wanted to love me. My thoughts of revenge were not succeeding in hurting those who hurt me, bullied me, sexually took advantage of me, mocked my disability, or tore me down with their words. My quick comebacks and sharp words, like daggers, were only hurting me, and I was living in a series of unfortunate events. I was fighting fire with fire. Until I gave it to God, and remembered what Christ did for me. It was hard forgiving them. Somedays Satan reminds me of my hurt, and I have to forgive and move on. Words hurt, actions scar, but I have a choice to have a happy ending because God through Jesus has forgiven me. Yes, I still see some faces of those who hurt me, but I will not allow their words or actions to control my story. I am not a victim when I am unwilling to forgive. Forgiving them takes boldness in my part, just as it did for Christ to die on the cross and forgive me.

Forgiveness breaks the series of unfortunate events. Forgiveness heals you and others. Forgiveness begins to build trust. Forgiveness is the only thing that gives life, peace, and rest. We live in a broken world, and Jesus felt the rusted nails of this broken world. But, this broken world is no excuse to not be like Jesus. Forgiveness brings light into this dark world, and gives a taste to others what God is really like.

So, who is in your little black book? What are your schemes against them? Are you tired of turning a page in your life, and it be only a series of unfortunate events you started because of holding on to hurt and not forgiving? How will your story end?

This attitude of forgiveness is not a once learned and kept mentality. It can be a daily struggle to forgive. But, we can turn our no happy ending into a new life, and a new chapter because we let revenge go and forgive. We forgive because we remember how God forgives us.

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
– C.S. Lewis

But I Feel Like a Fraud

“If I can easily discuss the shortcomings and the sins of any, then I know nothing of Calvary’s love.” – Amy Carmichael

You close your Bible and thank God for how He spoke through His Word. You open your social media account to share that verse. As you begin typing, a thought hits you, “How can you share this with that struggle?”

You’re preparing a sermon or lesson. However, the passage hits a chord with you. It speaks on the sin you have fallen into time and time again. You know there will be individuals in attendance who have kept you accountable, and have seen you fall, and seen the many times you repented. Then the thought hit you, “What are they going to think of me when I preach this passage?”

At church people are sharing testimonies. It is your turn at the mic. As you step up to share how God is working in your life a thought hits you, “They all know what I did last weekend, and now I’m sharing this? They all must think I’m a fraud.”

I feel like a fraud. It is a thought we all have faced at one time or another. We see our spiritual life, and we see the sin in our life. We can count how many times we have fallen, and how many times we have asked for forgiveness. And when it comes to speaking about Christ, we feel like a fraud. In fact, we may have had some people say to us, “And you call yourself a Christian?”

The Lie of an Image

At the root of feeling like a fraud is the idea that we have not attained a certain image for our Christian life. We see those around us who come across as perfect, as ones not falling into sin, and those who must be mature Christians. We look at passages like I Timothy 3:2, read the phrase “above reproach,” and think we could never attain that with our struggles. We have a desire to be in ministry, but know our image does not include “above reproach.”

However, this is a lie. We would agree that all Christians are not perfect. But, don’t we act and treat others like we believe we should put forth an image of being perfect? Even if we say “above reproach” does not mean being perfect, we qualify it with saying, “It means no one has something to grab onto or something to use against your character.” This is a subtle way of saying, “You need to be perfect.”

Everyone has something that can be thrown at them. I John 1:8 states that if we claim or even act as if we do not have sin in our lives, then the truth is not in us. The idea that unless we conform to an image in order to share Christ is a lie.

I would like to look at two people in the Gospels that show us that God does not want an image. He wants sinners bearing His image.

But Didn’t She Sleep With?

It was a hot day. Jesus sent the disciples into a town for food. As He sat in the blazing sun on the hot bricks of a well, a woman came to the well. Jesus could see her eyes focused on the ground; attempting to not make eye contact with anyone. Her whole body language showed the weight of shame she received from the people in her community.

“Would you please give me a drink?” After some conversation, Jesus revealed to the woman what she knew to be true. She had many men in her life, and was sleeping with a man who was not her husband. She was even probably called whore or slut by people in the town. They knew what she was like, she knew what she was like, and Jesus knew.

But John 4:1-32 does not end with this reveal. Instead, Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah offering living water that would gush into a geyser of living water inside of her. No longer did she have to find satisfaction in dipping into the various wells of sexual encounters. The Messiah gave her a new life.

What happened next? She went into her town telling people to come and see the man who told her all about herself (John 4:28-30). She didn’t care that the people knew her as the woman who passed herself around. She cared that they came to see the Messiah. And what happened because of her testimony? John 4:39-42 gives us the answer. The people believed her testimony, and because of her they were led to meet the savior of the world.

The woman at the well, with her past, became one of the first missionaries showing people the Messiah who would give them living water.

And He Calls Himself a Leader of the Church?

He traveled with Jesus. He sat under his teachings. He witnessed the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, and the dead raised. He even saw Jesus’ glory as Jesus was transfigured on the mountain. Even at the last supper, he promised Jesus he would never abandon him.

Peter was one of Jesus’ closest disciples. Yes, he stuck his foot in his mouth a lot. But, was he above reproach? In Matthew 26:69-75 we see a dark side of Peter. As Jesus was being tried in order to execute him, Peter was in the courtyard wanting to hear what would happen. His promise of not abandoning his Lord and the one he called, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:13-16),” stood firm in his mind.

Yet, a servant girl change everything. “You were with Jesus, weren’t you?” Peter quickly looked around, maybe even tried to silence the girl, but couldn’t. People were already staring. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” Peter denied his association with Jesus. Two more times, others claimed Peter was a follower of Jesus. Each time, Peter denied Jesus in order to prove he was not associated with the man accused. The rooster crowed, and Peter remembered Jesus’ predication, and probably began eating his promise of not abandoning Jesus. Peter ran away weeping.

The story does end there. John 21:15-19 shows us the heart of Jesus. Jesus forgave Peter and restored him. In fact it wasn’t just a forgive and forget moment. Jesus called Peter to feed his sheep or feed the church. Peter, the one who publicly denied Jesus, was called to be a leader in the church. In fact, Peter goes on to write two books of the New Testament highlighting our hope in Christ. Yet, the church would have known about his denial. The book of Matthew was written in the late 50’s AD. The two books Peter wrote are dated to the early 60’s AD. Therefore, he could not hide from the people he ministered to his public denial of their savior.

Being Christ’s Image Bearer

Peter and the woman at the well were not perfect. In fact, the people who knew them could have easily said, “How can he be a pastor? He publicly denied Jesus,” or “How can she be talking about Jesus? Her bed had an open vacancy sign over it.”

How could they talk about Jesus? Because it was not about having their own image. It was about bearing or wearing Christ’s image. II Corinthians 5:21 states that Jesus took our image, our sin, our identity on himself in order that we could bear his righteous image. Ephesians 4:24 says we are to put on the likeness of God or the image of Christ. We are not to put on self-righteousness or an image of perfection. Instead, we are wear the identity of Jesus. Romans 3:23-26 demonstrates that it is not our image of perfection that does anything whether in salvation or progressive sanctification. Our righteousness is only from Jesus. Our image is the image of Jesus. He knows we struggle with sin. He knows we are not perfect. But in our imperfect words and actions, Jesus has freely given to us the ability to wear his image.

Even as I write this post, I can feel the thought, “My readers must think me a fraud. Those who know me know I’m not perfect. How can I be writing this when I know my own struggles?” It is a thought that can be turned into an opportunity. It is not an image I have to put on. Jesus is my perfection. Jesus is my image. Do I show Jesus like I should? No. But, I do not have to worry about what people think or what they say about me. I am just like the woman at the well and Peter. I have sinned, and people know how I’ve sinned. But I have a God who through the riches of his mercy and grace made me alive in Christ in order to do what he has called me to do (Ephesians 2:1-10).

The scars of the past and the scars of the present can be reminders of how much a fraud we can feel when we speak about Jesus. But, let the scars of the past and the present remind you of His scars that forgave you, cleansed you, freed you, justified you, and called you to a new purpose (I Corinthians 6:9-11; II Corinthians 5:17-21).

Others who call you a fraud have a low view of God. They do not see how God has forgiven you, loves you, and is using your story to show Jesus to the world. You do not have to worry about creating an image, because Jesus wants you to bear his image as he transforms your life, your mind, and your heart to be more like him each day, and step by step.

Waking up to a new sunrise
Looking back from the other side
I can see now with open eyes
Darkest water and deepest pain
I wouldn’t trade it for anything
‘Cause my brokenness brought me to You
And these wounds are a story You’ll useSo I’m thankful for the scars
‘Cause without them I wouldn’t know Your heart
And I know they’ll always tell of who You are
So forever I am thankful for the scars

– “Scars” by I am They
(Listen to the song here)

Thriving in Isolation

“Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” – Jim Elliot

There is no denying the news of the world. There is a virus that is spreading quickly, and our government is telling people to be in isolation so we can slow down the spread of COVID-19.

Social distancing can be one of the hardest things to experience since we are created to be social beings. God said it was not good for man to be alone, so he created Eve for Adam (Genesis 2:18-25). So “cabin fever” will eventually set in, and we may feel like that scene from Muppet Treasure Island (Watch Here).

However, how are we as Christians supposed to respond, not only to the onset of COVID-19, but also to the the fact that the majority of us will be isolated and stuck at home for the next few weeks? Churches are closed, and people are working at home. How can we look at this from a biblical perspective?

Breathe…

The first thing we need to do is breathe. When we log onto social media, we are are berated with many articles and posts about COVID-19 and a political agenda, the events of Revelation, or some other conspiracy theory. Instead of letting these thoughts over take our mind, we need to breathe. Inhale and exhale. Go ahead, actually inhale and exhale. Just that simple breath shows God is not done with your purpose on earth. He has a plan for each of our lives and has it written down in his book (Psalm 139:16).

But, let us deal with all the articles and headlines which buzz around our heads. We can breathe in the midst of these articles, because God promises he does not give us a spirit of fear (II Timothy 1:7). Instead, it is a spirit of power, love, and sound judgment. The first two items are easy to understand, but what about the last? To have sound judgment means we are able to work through a situation with God’s wisdom. We can look at all the headlines from any site about COVID-19 and ask God for wisdom. In II Timothy 2:15, we are commanded to diligently study the Word and be able to work our way through the Word. Studying the Word can help us breathe. We will see a plethora of promises from God, and we will see how to handle issues of COVID-19 conspiracy theories and the End Times. (Hint: the answer is in Acts 1:4-8 – Where does Christ put our focus when it comes to the matters of the End Times?)

Capture…

The second thing we need to do in order to thrive in isolation is to capture. By this I mean we need to capture our thoughts. Paul commands us in II Corinthians 10:4-5 to capture all our thoughts in order to follow Christ. Believe me, this is hard to do. It is easy for me to stumble in my journey in following Christ. Isolation can bring up thoughts of the past, thoughts of worthlessness, thoughts of my struggle, and I can easily fall spiritually and fall into depression.

Remember, God has given us the victory over sin because of Jesus Christ (Romans 5). Therefore, I have the spirit of power in me because the Holy Spirit lives in me (II Timothy 1:7). I can capture these thoughts, bring them to Christ, and continue walking forward.

Our thoughts do not have to overwhelm us in isolation. We can journal them out, and then search the Scriptures so we know how to answer these thoughts. We can listen to good Christian music to help our minds stay focused. Some songs I listen to keep my mind focused are: This is Amazing Grace by Phil Wickham; Found in You and Lamb of God by Vertical Church; Glorious Day by Passion; No One Like Our God and God of the Impossible by Lincoln Brewster. There are many more I could recommend. Yes these songs do have an upbeat, but it helps keep my mind focused on truth when my emotions and thoughts want to go against God’s truth.

It is easy in this time to let our thoughts run wild, but we have the power to capture them and bring them to Christ. We can conquer our thoughts in isolation only because of Jesus.

Connect…

It has been overly noted that churches are closing. It is advised that we do not physically meet in church in order to help slow the spread of COVID-19. This has many Christians concerned. Yet when God created us, he gave us creativity. We are created in his image, so we can be creative like he is (Genesis 1:26-27).

It is of vital importance to meet together as believers (Hebrews 10:24-25). We need to be encouraging each other in following Christ, in standing strong in the faith, in loving those around us, and in fulfilling God’s calling in our lives. Yet, we still need to be respectful of the governing authorities (Romans 13:1). They have only asked us not to meet in person as a large crowd.

This is where being created in the image of God comes in. We are creative beings, and in being creative we have created technology. We can livestream and record services. We can video chat with many believers around the world. We can text each other. Use the creative minds God has given us to stay connected to the community of believers. This is one thing I am grateful for. My band of brothers in my life want to stay connected, and so we make it a priority.

Since the church is the body of Christ as seen in I Corinthians 12:12-27 we cannot do life alone. Even though we are isolated from each other for face-to-face meetings, we can still connect and encourage each other.

Thrive…

Yes, the times are a bit scary and our anxiety can overtake our thoughts. Yet, we as Christians can to three things: Breathe, Capture, and Connect. God is in control of our lives and he knows all about COVID-19 and its effects. This is no surprise to him. God uses all things for our good and in order to make us like Christ (Romans 8:28-29).

So as we start our period of social distancing, let’s not allow this time to be one where Satan can suffocate us in silence. Let’s thrive because God has given us a spirit of power, love, and sound judgment (II Timothy 1:7). We do not have to fall to the power of “cabin fever.” If we take it one day at a time, giving it over to God, and breathing, capturing, and connecting, we will see this time as a season of growth. People may be panicking. But, we can use this time to show the peace of God which surpassing any human reasoning in order to show that we have a powerful God who loves us, sustains us, and will fulfill his purposes for our lives (Philippians 4:7; Colossians 1:15-20).